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It's not hard to see why Pierce Brosnan had, for a couple of years,
tried to get this film made; despite being a perfectly capable dramatic
actor, it is his time as James Bond that people remember most fondly
about the 61-year-old Irish actor, so it is no wonder that Brosnan
would want at some point to get back into the spy game. There is
pedigree and potential here too - the character is the protagonist of
novelist Bill Granger's 1980s Peter Devereaux series, and if this movie
adapted from the seventh book of that series hits paydirt, there are
always many other books on which a franchise could be built.
Thankfully for Brosnan, who also produces the movie through his Irish Dreamtime company, 'November Man' is a sturdy enough thriller that could be the start of several such mid-budget European-set sequels to come. Gone are the gadgets, the girls and the quips that were a centrepiece of Brosnan's 007 days though - Brosnan's Devereaux is the kind of gritty spy Daniel Craig fashioned the 007 character after Brosnan departed, a no-nonsense CIA man at the top of his game who retired after a mission gone wrong with his protégé, David Mason (Australian actor Luke Bracey).
Devereaux is pulled back into the field when his former handler from Langley, a hawk-eyed Hanley (Bill Smitrovich), asks for his help to pull an asset out of Moscow. The woman has critical information about the future head of the Soviet Union, Arkady Federov (Lazar Ristovski), which the CIA would like its hands on, but Devereaux accepts only because she is also his former colleague and lover. That simple mission goes unexpectedly awry when Devereaux finds himself pitted against Mason, whose orders were not only to 'take out' the woman but also Devereaux himself. What's more, Hanley is simultaneously taken into custody by his own CIA unit, after it turns out that he had recruited Devereaux behind their backs.
As scripted by Michael Finch and Karl Gajdusek, the film combines a couple of familiar tropes. Here we have a teacher and his best protégé turned enemies, so that we get to see just how much of the former's skills the latter has honed into his own. We also get a spy versus the Agency, with Devereaux seemingly gone rogue against the apparently corrupted CIA establishment. And finally, we get a witness everyone is after, who as Hollywood convention dictates, happens also to look like a supermodel - that would be Alice Fournier (played by former Bond girl Olga Kurylenko) - and is protected by none other than Devereaux himself.
So far, so good - for the first hour, Roger Donaldson directs a relatively taut and tense setup that keeps you hooked at trying to figure out just who is playing who. We know Devereaux is the good guy here, but just who is everyone else? Will Mason become a cold-hearted killing machine to take out his former trainer? Is Mason's boss the one pulling the strings? What does he have to do with an operation involving Federov and a building which fell in Chechnya that precipitated the war between the two countries? And just who is this Mira whom everyone is looking for, who apparently has Federov's dirty secrets from his past as a Russian general in the Chechen war?
But after a promising start, what was a tightly plotted affair starts to go off the rails. There are a lot of revelations here, and to be fair, a somewhat twisty knot of events to unravel the truth behind the smokescreens. Yet, the scripting gets weaker by the minute - in particular, a thoroughly extraneous scene where Devereaux confronts Mason in his own apartment and decides to teach the latter a thing or two about developing affections for the opposite sex by slashing the femoral artery of his next-door neighbour/ girlfriend for no other apparent reason - and the leaps of logic get more far-fetched as Donaldson tries his darnest to keep the proceedings moving at a brisk clip until the climax.
Never a less than competent helmer, Donaldson largely succeeds, inserting some efficiently thrilling car chases, shootouts and hand-to- hand combats in between the betrayals, admissions and ultimatums. It certainly helps that Brosnan is just as sure a hand at playing a spy, slipping effortlessly into the role with charisma and lending this screen incarnation of Devereaux a dignity and poise that very few silver-haired action stars can do. Brosnan's co-stars are however forgettable, though Kurylenko proves to be a sight to behold in her own right when she puts on a short sexy dress to seduce Federov in his own hotel room.
To be sure, 'November Man' never quite comes close to the heights of Bourne, which is in a league of its own. But for less demanding audiences looking for some late-summer action, this entirely B-grade Euro-set thriller will do the trick. It's got espionage, suspense, blood, some sex (clearly trimmed here for an NC16 rating though), and most of all, Brosnan; yes, the latter is singlehandedly the best thing the film has going for it. And in turn, Brosnan gets his wish - an opportunity back into the spy game, and a pretty good one at that too.
Living in this part of the world, Taiwan shouldn't be an unfamiliar
tourist spot for us. Beyond our Facebook and Instagram photos with
somewhat ridiculous sounding hashtags like #ILoveTaiwan and
#TaiwanHoliday, how much do we really know about the East Asian state
which has an area of 36193 square kilometers? Beyond the metropolitan
area of Taipeiwhere you devour your enormous chicken fillets and oyster
mee sua, how much do you know about the island formerly known as
Formosa? In this day and age where we move faster than we think, is
there relevance in understanding a country's heritage and history?
Both a commercial and critical success, this 2013 documentary film has made its way to Singapore, and amidst the breathtaking visuals, it asks some important and somewhat grave issues which we, collectively as a human race, has chosen to ignore for the longest time. The 93 minute feature length production documents Taiwan completely in aerial photography. It is a tribute to Taiwan's natural beauty (something not many of us are aware of), and gained attention back home when it earned NT$11 million (S$458,336) in its first three days at the Taiwanese box office, a record opening for a documentary in the territory. The film went on to win the Best Documentary at the Taipei Golden Horse Awards, before making its way to several international film festivals.
Directed by Chi Po Lin, a former civil servant turned aerial photographer, produced by prominent Taiwanese filmmaker Hou Hsiao Hsien and narrated by respected personality Wu Nien Jen (we love the script has a Chinese old school poetic romanticism), the film's first 10 odd minutes blows you away with its unbelievably awe inspiring shots of Taiwan's various well known spots. It begins to feel like a tourism promo reel, with Singaporean composer Ricky Ho's magnificent and operatic score. You feel a little overwhelmed (all the while wishing you have the opportunity to visit Taiwan soon to snap similar photos and share them on your social media platforms), and begin to wonder where this documentary is headed.
Then it strikes you hard the film begins showing you how human greed and negligence has damaged the island's beauty. You see how irresponsible environmental crimes affect Taiwan's mountains and coastline, and how this supposedly natural disasters like floods and landslides (which Taiwan often experiences) is nothing more than a result of human actions. You feel a little guilty because you remember wanting to enjoy mountain grown vegetables and sip mountain tea while staying in European inspired inns, just because travel brochures tell you it's the best way to enjoy Taiwan, and to a certain extent, to appreciate life. The documentary explains to you, in simple geographic terms, how this obsession with economic expansion may one day lead to the country's downfall.
Yes, you may feel that the film is starting to get preachy, dishing you with environmental messages that you already know from elsewhere. But nothing works better than showing you visuals that leave you dumbfounded and shocked an effect that's more far reaching than a horror movie. The chilling thought that the terrifying images you see on screen are due to fishermen, farmers and businessmen's doings is one you have to experience to understand the dire situation. This documentary may be Taiwancentric, but we all know this is a universal issue that needs to be dealt with urgently.
Thankfully, the last 20 minutes of the film reminds us there is hope yet. When the film closes with one of our favourite on screen visuals this year a choir singing an aboriginal tune on Yu Shan, Taiwan's tallest mountain peak, you'll step out of the cinema wanting to do your part for conservation. Next step, which is of utmost importance, is to actually making a conscious effort to protect this planet we call home.
At this point in the trilogy, 'The Four III' will only make sense to
those who have seen the first two chapters. Based on Chinese Malaysian
author Woon Swee Oan's bestselling novel series 'The Four Great
Constables', the series was meant to be a game-changer in the Chinese
movie industry with its genre-bending mix of action, drama, romance and
fantasy. Yes, the eponymous four under the charge of Anthony Wong's
Zhuge Zhengwo formed the Divine Constabulary, so named because each one
of them is blessed with superhuman powers.
For the benefit of the uninitiated, there is Cold Blood aka Leng Lingqi (Deng Chao), a former spy from a rival crime-fighting department known as Department Six previously sent to infiltrate the Constabulary and learn their secrets who has the gift (or curse) of transforming into a beast when provoked. He is in love with Emotionless (Crystal Liu Yifei), a psychic in a wheelchair who immediately recalls Professor X. Looking after Emotionless like an older brother is Iron Hands (Collin Chou), whose power is apparent from his name. And last but not least, there is Life Stealer (Ronald Cheng), better known for being a fast talker and a wine lover than for any particular standout ability.
There is a whole lot of backstory in 'The Four II' which proves critical to understanding the narrative developments here. Emotionless has learnt the truth behind her family's assassination as a child, which precipitates her disillusionment with Zhuge Zhengwo and Iron Hands, as well as to a certain extent Cold Blood. On the other hand, Cold Blood is caught in a love triangle with newly installed Department Six head Ji Yaohua (Jiang Yiyan), who is doing the bidding for a certain powerful Lord An (Yu Chenghui). Lord An wants revenge for his son An Shigeng (Yu Chenghui), the baddie from the first movie who is now grafted onto a tree for life. Oh, there is also a shapeshifter named Ruyan (Ada Yan) also doing Lord An's deeds, who sets in motion the chain of events in this third movie.
If all that read like a head-scratcher, you're not alone. Even those who have seen the second movie will probably need a refresher to call to mind all the convolutions that made up the scatter-haired plot, and which director Gordon Chan offers no abbreviation at the start of this final instalment. Instead, he and co-director Janet Chun plunge right into things, beginning with Ruyan's escape from prison which leads to a failed assassination of the Emperor (Alec Su) when he decides one day to come down from his throne and visit the city unannounced in order to get a better sense of his countrymen's woes. The Emperor survives, but is captured by Emotionless before he can get to the loyal Zhuge Zhengwo, and it should be no secret that the turn of events afford Emotionless the redemption she needs from her emotional baggage.
As loyalties are tested and traitors exposed, the relatively swift-paced conclusion builds towards an epic finale where the Department Six and Divine Constabulary join forces against the common enemy Lord An. It's a pompous special effects laden climax all right, where not only does each character get a chance to show off his or her skill but to work together as a team to defeat their most formidable enemy yet. We won't spoil the ending for you, but suffice to say that some will find the denouement though logical somewhat of a letdown, with Zhuge Zhengwo playing a crucial last-minute role to Lord An's annihilation.
Even though it is the best of the three, it is unlikely that 'The Four III' will satisfy anyone who has not caught the earlier two movies. If the middle section plays like melodrama, that's because Chan has the unenviable task of bringing closure to the myriad story threads that were left unresolved in the preceding chapter. And yet while it does manage to tie all the loose ends nicely, the intended poignancy of Emotionless' struggle between forgiveness and revenge as well as the romantic stirrings between her and Cold Blood will likely be lost on those who are encountering these characters for the first time.
But for those who have followed them from first to third, Chan's ensemble cast rewards your loyalty with their best performances yet. Deng finally settles into a more grounded character here, and he shares good chemistry with Liu, who in turn acquits herself well in her most emotive turn yet. Cheng brings some levity to the proceedings, while Chou is still sadly underutilised. It is always a joy to see veteran actor Wong on screen, who brings both dignity and gravitas to his supporting act as Zhuge Zhengwo in particular, he shares a nice intimate scene with Liu and TVB actress Sheren Tang who has an extended cameo as Emotionless' guardian.
So despite the misgivings about 'The Four', this final instalment still manages to cap the trilogy at a high. In terms of storytelling, it is easily the most fluid, and in character development, the least clunky among the three. Those looking for some grand blockbuster action will still however be disappointed, as Ku Huen-chiu's choreography still leaves much to be desired amid the slightly improved CGI. Yet, it's as good a conclusion as one can ask for, so if it's closure you seek, then it's closure you'll get; everyone else need not bother.
Nine years is a long time to wait for a sequel, but in the case of
Frank Miller's 'Sin City: A Dame to Kill For', it's as if it was just
yesterday. Yes, fans will be glad to know that the years since have not
dulled the sensibilities of Miller or his co-director Robert Rodriguez,
both of whom have returned to script and helm this faithful sequel -
and by faithful, we mean that it is just as hard-boiled, gory, garish
and violent. In short, if you did not like the first one, then there's
no reason you should bother with this.
But for those who have been eagerly awaiting a return to the outlandishly scuzzy urban hellhole of Basin City (given the eponymous title for its collection of thugs, mugs, femme fatales and their criminal and moral misdeeds), you'll be glad to know that 'Sin City' is just as we had left it. Indeed, it picks up not long after where its predecessor left off, with one of the few good guys in the earlier film who was lucky enough to keep his head (pun intended) - the quintessential tough-guy of tough-guys in Basin City, Marv (Mickey Rourke).
Marv narrates from a first-person perspective the prologue which is as much introduction as neophytes will get to this portrait of urban dystopia. Awakening on a deserted highway outside the city, Marv recalls his altercation with a group of frat boys beating up a wino before he blacked out and his subsequent return to Kadie's saloon, where he keeps an eye on its resident stripper Nancy (Jessica Alba) whose tragic past was the subject of the previous movie as well as whose obsession for vengeance bookends this current one.
But Marv and Nancy ain't the only ones who are back; Senator Roark (Powers Boothe) returns to play the much-reviled villain of this chapter, the father of the notorious Yellow Bastard slain by Hartigan (Bruce Willis) before the latter met his own unfortunate death which Nancy spends the last tale trying to avenge. It is Roark whom Joseph Gordon Levitt's brash hotshot Johnny confronts one night during the former's backroom poker game, his arrogance leading not just to his unceremonious downfall but also the death of an innocent dancer Goldie (Jaime King) whom he picks up at Kadie's.
In between the two consecutive nights of poker which Johnny challenges Roark, Josh Brolin steps into the role which Clive Owen previous inhabited as private investigator Dwight McCarthy, whose former lover Ava (Eva Green) reaches out to save her from an abusive husband Damian (Marton Csokas) and his henchman named called Manute (Dennis Haysbert, who replaces the late Michael Clarke Duncan). As it turns out, Dwight is being played by the diabolical and seductive Ava, who as it turns out, is the titular dame that is easily the most compelling and intriguing object of this whole enterprise.
We don't blame Dwight for not having the resolve to simply walk away from Ava; wielding femininity like a trap, she also ensnares deputy police chief Mort (Christopher Meloni), despite being forewarned by his associate Bob (Jeremy Piven). Dwight's subsequent journey of redemption offers a detour that brings back Rosario Dawson's Gail, madam to Old Town's band of lethal prostitutes, including the Japanese longbow- wielding assassin Miho (Jamie Chung, replacing the original's Devon Aoki). It's easy to take it for granted, but you have to give credit to Rodriguez for his sheer effort at reuniting such an ensemble group of cast and characters to ensure that his sequel does indeed feel, look and tell like one.
In part of course that has to do with the way the 'Sin City' movies are structured; and like its predecessor, this one weaves several of Miller's lightly entangled tales into a larger narrative piece, with loose connections between the characters of each individual vignette. Of these, the centrepiece is also the most fascinating, in large part due to Green's scene-chewing performance in various states of undress - but nudity aside, she is sexy, funny, dangerous, wild and in two words, compulsively watchable.
The suitably menacing Boothe is an excellent complement, singlehandedly the reason why the segment with Levitt as well as his showdown with Alba manage to pop off the screen. But it is still a weak finish, in part because Alba remains a pretty but pretty empty actress, unable to convey the angst and anger tormenting her character as she struggles to muster up the courage to pull that trigger on Roark despite seeing him every night at the club where she gyrates. Rourke plays the tough-guy with the soft spot like the back of his hand, but his on screen appearance still makes him one of the most iconic denizens of the city.
And on their part, Rodriguez and Miller demonstrate the same faithfulness to the latter's illustrations, so that just like the last movie, this one unfolds in the same graphic-novelly way. The dynamic signature visuals are still intact - high-contrast black and white, with occasional splashes of saturated colour for emphasis - but so is the deliberately ham-fisted dialogue that is meant as a hark back to the neo-noir thrillers of the 1940s and 1950s. As we said before, in terms of style and tone, it is as if we never left 'Sin City' despite the nine-year gap.
That may sadly not be enough to win over converts, as 'Sin City: A Dame to Kill For' may very well be a victim of its own predecessor's success which has inspired other such adaptations like '300', 'Sucker Punch' and even Miller's own 'The Spirit'. Yes, this sequel doesn't so much as improve on the earlier film as recreate and recapture the same noir-ish nihilism. No matter, familiarity after a close-to-a-decade absence still feels both fresh and comforting to us at the same time, and we suspect fans of 'Sin City' will feel likewise.
At this point, you can be forgiven for feeling fatigued by the recent
glut of YA-lit adaptations of the dystopian variety, but before you
write off 'The Giver', know that Lois Lowry's Newbery Medal-winning
novel in fact pre-dated Suzanne Collins' 'The Hunger Games' and
Veronica Roth's 'Divergent' by about 18 years. And that means, rather
than the other way round, both Collins and Roth probably got some of
their ideas from Lowry's 1993 bestseller, although ironically it took
both these hits to convince that 'The Giver' was ripe for the big
Instrumental in shepherding this long-gestating adaptation from print to screen is Jeff Bridges, who plays the titular character that is so named because he is only one that holds the collective remembrances of a long- gone society. The rest of its members know not of where they came from, but only of what is necessary - in order to prevent a repeat of the catastrophe which led to the collapse of mankind (referred to as The Ruin), the all-seeing and all-hearing Council of Elders deemed it essential to eliminate difference and emphasise sameness through a conduct of strict rules, imposed politeness and language precision, as well as a daily dose of medication which suppresses feelings.
It is also within this context that it had been decided there should only be one person amidst the community who knows their history, his role to offer advice to the elders when the need arises. That is the responsibility for which our lead protagonist Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) has been selected for at a ritualised graduation ceremony marking his transition from adolescence to maturity, his weighty mantle of Receiver of Memories in contrast to the more commonplace roles which his good buddy Asher (Cameron Monaghan) or his teenage crush Fiona (Odeya Rush) have been chosen for - as a drone pilot or a Nurturer for newborns respectively.
So Jonas goes off daily to the edge of the known world to learn from The Giver, a wise but jaded Elder still reeling from his failed prior attempt to pass on his knowledge to a young woman named Rosemary (Taylor Swift in a glorified cameo). Yet Jonas isn't just learning the memories as if they were facts off an encyclopaedia; rather, he is experiencing them through the Giver, these feelings spanning a gamut from emotional highs, sensory rushes, music, dance, and most of all, the concept of love. Why would anyone want to deny others the opportunity to feel such joys, Jonas asks?
It is only logical therefore that Jonas defies the rules to share the pleasures of feeling with his loved ones - his family (Alexander Skarsgard and Katie Holmes as his parents and Emma Tremblay as his little sister) and Fiona - much to the chagrin of the Chief Elder (Meryl Streep), who regards his behaviour as nothing less than sedition. But Jonas' struggle is both within and without; even as he tries to escape the grasp of the Chief Elder and her security forces sent to retrieve him, he finds himself struggling to come to terms with the darker side of human nature - violence, war, greed and tragedy.
At the end of the day, Lowry poses this question to her readers, a question which this adaptation retains with sparkling clarity. Is it possible for mankind to choose love, not hate, peace, not war, and choice, not denial? Of course, the movie does, like the book, take a stand against sameness by emphasising the beauty in diversity, and above all, the wonder of experience. Purists may object to certain liberties which Michael Mitnick and Robert B. Weide's screenplay takes with the book, but we're glad to say however that the essence of Lowry's classic remains beautifully captured here.
Director Phillip Noyce does take the movie one step further than the book by using colour as metaphor - the first half hour unfolds in flat black and white, gradually transitioning from muted to saturated colour by the time it reaches the extended action climax. Amidst the burst of colour, his choice of montages from sunsets to tribal dances to Renaissance wedding ceremonies to the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest and even Nelson Mandela is stirring to say the very least, and it's hard not to be moved by his personal salute to the human spirit.
Just as convincing is Thwaites, the actor best remembered for his role as the handsome prince in 'Maleficient' acquitting himself well with an engaging yet thoughtful performance that we hope puts naysayers' doubts to rest about upping Jonas' age in the movie. Bridges lends a steady old hand playing the grizzled Giver, though it is a pity that he doesn't share more scenes with Streep, whose acting talents are grossly underused in a nondescript villainous role that doesn't require her to do much more than look menacing - yes, Bridges and Streep do share a scene towards the end of the movie, and boy are these veterans compelling to watch.
Thankfully, the same can also be said of the movie as a whole, which will more than banish any skepticism you may have about it due to genre (and possibly, thematic) fatigue. Yes, 'The Giver' may follow in the wake of more higher-profile franchises like 'The Hunger Games' or 'Divergent', but it Is easily more thought-provoking than either of them as a cautionary tale against conformity and obedience. Is the world a better place without emotion? Is the world a better place without diversity? Should life be led as choice or conformity? In a summer with too much bombast, this is a surprisingly intelligent little picture that deserves to be seen.
We do not blame you if you can't quite remember anything about the
first 'Tekken' movie; like many of its ilk, it was a forgettable
attempt at translating the Namco video game for the big screen. Given
how cold a reception it had gotten, it's no surprise that this sequel
is arriving with so little fanfare, given a theatrical release in some
territories and dropped straight to video in many others. Not to worry
though, if you haven't caught the first movie, this is an in-name only
sequel, and in fact is meant as a prequel to its predecessor.
Whereas the earlier film chose Jin Kazama as its protagonist, this one makes Kazuya Mishima its lead character. Fans of the game will know that Kazuya was only a good guy for the first instalment, thereafter turning into one of its main antagonists from the second one onwards. Fans will also know that Kazuya is in fact the son of Heihachi Mishima, the head honcho behind the infamous Iron Fist tournament of Tekken City where fighters from the eight mega-corporations ruling the world battle it out for survival and glory and for those who are interested, the only continuity 'Tekken 2' has with the earlier film is that Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa returns, albeit for no more than a glorified cameo, as Heihachi.
This is a story which ultimately culminates in Kazuya learning that he is the son of Heihachi, but before we get to that big reveal, writers Nicole Jones and Steven Paul introduce us to Kazuya as a man with superb fighting skills who wakes up one morning in a room not knowing who he is or where he comes from. As he tries to escape from a gang of heavily- armed militia, he is knocked unconscious and brought before a questionable character known as the Minister (Rade Serbedzija). Though he says that he is running a reformation school for 'sinners', the Minister turns out to be no saint himself, wanting Kazuya only to do his bidding by acting as his assassin for hire.
Long story short (because there isn't much plot to begin with anyways), Kazuya discovers that the Minister isn't the man he says himself to be thanks to a former compatriot named Bryan Fury (Gary Daniels) who defected from the Minister's ranks and whom Kazuya was sent to kill. His only ally? Rhona Anders (Kelly Wenham), a British chick who tries to emote very hard in order to project a sense of conscience. Rhona who? Yeah, you're right. She isn't in the Tekken universe to begin with, nor for that matter is the Minister. There is a more interesting backstory here about how the film began as a project known as 'Agent X', and was only revealed later on as a Tekken prequel hence the blatant use of character names which don't even belong to 'Tekken'.
But perhaps the most disappointing element about 'Tekken 2' is that the action just doesn't cut it. Unlike 'Tekken', this origin story for Kazuya doesn't boast of any grand tournament to speak of, relegating the fights instead to the first act where he is made to show off his fighting skills in the Minister's training camp and in the third and last act where he confronts Bryan and later on comes face to face with his estranged father Heihachi. Unfortunately, the choreography is utterly disappointing for a movie which should thrive on its mano-a-mano fighting; there is no distinction in Kazuya's technique and for that matter between any of the fights to make them stand out against each other.
What we get is a series of poorly edited shots (thankfully not shot in the jerky close-up style) stitched together with little sense of continuity between them. That is even more upsetting for fans of Kane Kosugi, whose role in 'Tekken 2' marks the first leading man break for the talented American martial artist of Japanese descent. Kosugi executes some beautiful moves, but they are lost amidst the unremarkable choreography and some dismal editing. It suffices to say that neither Kazuya nor his opponents get to express any sort of personality through their moves, and as a result none of the fights are actually memorable.
The title alone may draw those who have played the game before and may be excited to see a real-life incarnation of their avatars, but not even nostalgia can rescue this abysmal martial arts-based movie which only bears the 'Tekken' name for familiarity and to ring up more coin. Indeed, 'Tekken 2' is an embarrassment to the 'Tekken' franchise and an outrage to fans of the game, so you'll be wise to avoid it whether in theatres or on home video.
At first, it was fun. Then, it got familiar. And so to avoid the
inevitable sequel fatigue that had set in among the franchise's core
fanbase of baby boomers as well as to broaden its appeal to a younger
audience, Sylvester Stallone has decided to expand the cast list from
80s and 90s action stars to young upshots like Kellan Lutz, Glen
Powell, Victor Ortiz and Ronda Rousey. That is in addition to adding
Wesley Snipes, Antonio Banderas, Mel Gibson and Harrison Ford to the
'Expendables' he had already recruited over the past two instalments.
Does it bloat? Most definitely. The surest example of that is how Jet Li only appears on screen for a grand total of five minutes during the messy extended finale, confined to a helicopter firing a machine gun. It's hardly the best use of a talent like Li, but hey series regulars like Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Dolph Lundgren and even Jason Statham also get short shrift this time round. For that matter, so does Stallone, but that is also because Mel Gibson as the villain is hardly a substitute for Jean Claude Van Damme in the previous chapter even though Stallone lets himself and Gibson have the same mano-a-mano finish.
It is therefore only logical to ask has 'The Expendables' gone the way of its title? Yes and no. Let's begin with its flaws, the most obvious one being that there is just too many actors and too little of each actor. In order to introduce a younger, fitter, and more tech-savvy team, Stallone and his co-writers Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt force his old crew to sit out a good hour of the film. And yet that time-out hardly gives their newbies any much time to define themselves either individually or as a team, since their grouping is prefaced by a barely necessary recruitment drive where Stallone and a mercenary head-hunter played by Kelsey Grammar travel around the United States to pick them up.
Don't get us wrong we're not expecting more exposition to do the character development; after all, the Expendables have always been characterised by their unique s(killing)-sets where each plays a complementary role to the entire team. Sadly, even up to the finale, none of the actors get enough limelight to distinguish themselves from one another or to live up to the expectations of their fans; more significantly, their teamwork lacks the grease of a well-oiled machine, so much so that their collective presence is no different than a ragtag group of well-trained mercenaries whose common trait is that they just refuse to die. There are glimpses of the latter like how Snipes and Statham cover each other's back during the climax but such moments of chemistry are few and too far in between.
Its cardinal sin however is even more fundamental. For none other than commercial reasons, Stallone and his director Patrick Hughes have intentionally toned down the violence, trading the grisly R-rated brutality of the last two movies for a virtually bloodless PG13 outing. That's an undeniable and some may think unacceptable cop-out when you consider the roots of the franchise back in the 80s, one that robs the film of a more visceral impact especially during the plentiful gun battles. It is also particularly alienating for fans of these old-school action stars which Stallone has assembled, who are understandably expecting the carnage to be much more brutal.
Yet even though it is flawed, it isn't completely expendable. Save for a handful like Statham and Ford, none of the other stars can open a movie on their own, and Stallone here gives fans of Wesley Snipes and Mel Gibson a chance to see their icons on the big screen once more. In turn, Snipes proves that he has lost none of his brash charisma as the knife- wielding, probably psychotic Doctor Death; and Gibson chews up the scenery as the megalomaniac ex-Expendable Conrad Stonebanks, enjoying every minute of his screen time with swagger, pomp and chilly menace.
There may not be as much humour as there was in 'The Expendables 2', but the zingers still pop. You'll find digs at Snipes' tax evasion, Stallone's stroke, Bruce Willis' absence from this one, Statham's accent and even Schwarzenegger's famous line from 'Predator'. Some of the most amusing moments are reserved for Banderas, who as the fast-talking eager-to-please desperado Galgo add some fleet-flooted verve to the middle stretch of the movie, which with the absence of the old guard comes quite close to feeling like a stretch.
Hughes does some commendable work with the action, which compared to the earlier two 'Expendables', comes off sleeker and more polished. The opening sequence where Stallone's old team break out Snipes from an armoured prison locomotive is literally a bang, and from their next mission at a seaport in Mogadishu to the new team's maiden one breaking into a high-tech building, Hughes maximises his mid-sized budget for some skilfully executed mayhem. Even the obligatory overblown conclusion deserves grudging praise, maintaining some sense of coherence while giving each one of the sprawling cast something meaningful to do before the credits roll.
It's the biggest assembly of action stars yet, even by the standard of "The Expendables", but like we've said, that comes at a cost to both the old and new cast as each character gets even less defined as before. Still, no other movie has ever come close to bringing together such an ensemble, and probably no one other than Stallone ever will be able to. If you're in the mood for nostalgia, then this throwback to the 80s and 90s will probably do just fine; but other than that, this third instalment is unlikely to win any new fans to either the stars or the franchise.
You should know exactly what to expect going into a movie like 'Into
the Storm', and if you set your expectations just right, then Steven
Quale's found-footage disaster movie won't disappoint. Yes, at the
heart of every such film are cutting-edge visual effects to bring the
audience into the eye of the storm (pun intended), ordinary characters
turned heroes under the circumstances, and some truly gripping
sequences to have us at the edge of our seats. To expect anything more
would simply be exceeding the grasp of such a genre picture, and
Quale's film delivers exactly on these three counts.
It's no secret that the Midwest has been of late bearing the brunt of severe weather phenomenon in recent years, attributed by most weather scientists to be the result of global warming. The fictional town of Silverton is based on such real-life mid-Western towns, which in the span of a single day finds himself at the centre of two colliding storm systems that spark off a series of devastating tornadoes in and around the town. In a word, the CG-rendered twisters and the destruction that they unfold are astounding, brought to life by no less than Weta Digital and under close supervision by Quale himself, a second-unit director on James Cameron's 'Avatar' who is no stranger to such special effects- driven pictures.
Among the more impressive shots are one in which a tornado hits a petrol station and catches fire all the way up into the sky, and yet another where a mega-tornado sweeps up a tank-like truck and takes it on a tour into and within itself before dropping it like a mega-ton bomb. There is no doubt at any point of time of the scale of the devastation which these twisters can exact or of their immense force and might which no object or structure can withstand. Like we said, the effects work here is top-shelf, complemented by equally breathtaking sound effects that makes for one of the best Dolby Atmos experiences we've had.
Amidst the melee are three groups of individuals whose fates will converge over the course of the day. The least interesting of all is a stoner duo who play like amateur Jackass-es, uploading to Youtube their foolish stunts of heading into - instead of away from - the storm. More compelling is that of a father (Richard Armitage) racing against his time with his younger son (Nathan Kress) to save his older son (Max Deacon) and his squeeze (Alycia Debnam Carey) trapped in an old factory at the outskirts of town. And rounding it off is the leader of a documentary team (Matt Walsh) consisting also of Sarah Wayne Callies' meteorologist (you'll recognise her from TV's 'The Walking Dead') who is preoccupied with getting up close in order to get exclusive footage to hit the payload with the broadcast stations.
The characterisation is barely enough to put a human face to the proceedings, but the actors manage to sell their thinly written roles just fine. Armitage is just as serious as he looks as the leader of the dwarfs in 'The Hobbit', but his anxiety will be keenly shared by anyone who is a parent. Walsh's moral dilemma is nicely played with Callies, the latter of whom reminds him of something known as conscience in his blinded pursuit of getting the best footage especially when he prizes that over saving human lives. There is scarcely much plot here given the timespan over which the movie unfolds, but you'll hardly notice that once the effects take centrestage.
Besides establishing the shots, Quale also proves that he knows his way around building a thrilling sequence. There are many of these, which typically start with the sudden appearance of a twister or later on, several of them at the same time, that change direction just as unpredictably. And if it seems counter-intuitive how the found-footage format can properly convey the magnitude of the tornados or of their destructive power, you'll be relieved to note that Quale puts a bird into the sky - a helicopter to be more exact - in order to switch to the significant wide shot in between the many intimate shots which bring the viewer up close and personal with the twister/s.
Yes, 'Into the Storm' may sound like a total B-movie, and unbefitting of a summer release or perhaps anything more than a premiere in the goggle box, but Quale embraces the B-movie premise wholeheartedly and delivers the kind of thrills best appreciated on a big screen with a robust sound system. Comparisons with 'Twister' are inevitable, and while this probably won't win the same appeal, it is a perfectly acceptable disaster movie in its own right, so set your expectations straight and you'll enjoy it just nice.
Hong Kong movie director, producer and screenwriter Jacob Cheung
probably does not believe in churning out productions like a factory
line, considering his sparse filmography. However, whenever the 54 year
old filmmaker directs a movie, it is something we'd enjoy. His credits
include A Battle of Wits (2006), which was nominated for Best Director
and Best Screenplay at the Golden Bauhinia Awards and Beyond the Sunset
(1989), which was a nominee at the 9th Hong Kong Film Awards. Of
course, there is the much loved Cageman (1992), which showcased the
director's ability to translate human relationships and emotions on the
big screen. Cheung's last work was Ticket in 2007, and seven years
later, we were very much looking forward to his latest work.
But alas, what a letdown and regrettably, a laughable piece of CGIladen movie it is. Maybe this comes with the fact that it is yet another remake of adaptation of Liang Yusheng's classic fantasy novel The Story Of The White Haired Demoness (1957), about a star-crossed love story between a witch-like woman and martial arts expert Zhuo Yihang.
The version we are all familiar with is Ronny Yu's 1993 movie The Bride With White Hair, starring Brigitte Lin Ching-hsia and the late Leslie Cheung, which is widely considered a classic of the genre. Here, it is an ironically too messy and overstuffed piece of work that lost our interest 30 minutes or so into the movie.
For the uninitiated, the 104 minute movie tells the story of a witch- like woman known as the Jade Raksha (Fan Bingbing) who becomes a wanted criminal after getting framed for the murder of a prominent government official. At the same time, a young man known as Zhuo Yihang (Huang Xiaoming) is framed for the murder of the emperor. The two fugitives meet by chance and fall in love, but when Jade Raksha becomes a prime suspect who is responsible for the murder of Yihang's beloved grandfather, can there still be a happy ending?
There are countless scenes boasting expensive CGIeffects, but they are not excuses for the evident lack of chemistry between leads, who despite putting in lots of effort to emote individually, just do not manage to stir any emotions with their supposedly tragic romantic relationship. This is an obvious case of how the industry hopes to bank in on the stars' commanding power in Mainland Chinato earn some quick bucks.
It doesn't help that there are several complex palace intrigue and politicking side plots which serve nothing but confuse and dilute the interest levels of viewers. Nope, thefootnotes of character names and relationships superimposed on the side of the screendo not help.The uninspiring screenplay includes the intriguing sub-plot of apolitical marriage of convenience between the male protagonist and the beautiful daughter of a scheming eunuch, amidst other uninteresting story lines. They are jam packed into one movie here, and bythe time the moviereturns to the romantic couple, we can't be bothered to find out about their fate. Even playing Leslie Cheung's heartfelt end credit song doesn't help anymore.
Notwithstanding the heart-tugging prologue which sees a young Peter
Quill saying his tearful goodbye to his dying mother in a hospital
room, it is manifestly clear from the opening strains of that 1970s
Redbone classic 'Come and Get Your Love' that Marvel's latest cinematic
addition 'Guardians of the Galaxy' just wants to have some fun. Yes,
immediately after that prologue, we catch up with our anti-hero - a
thieving Ravager, a self-styled Starlord, and a general intergalactic
do-no- gooder - skipping along to that song while venturing his way
into a cave on an abandoned planet to retrieve a much-sought after
In case it isn't already apparent from the trailer, that is the first of many 1970s pop classics that form about half of the soundtrack of the movie, and which Peter carries around in a mix-tape with his trusty Walkman. That artistic choice isn't self-evident; although these characters were already known as a team of misfit heroes from their introduction into the Marvel universe back in 1969, it did not come with the same cheeky comic tone which James Gunn has taken to the material. Indeed, the galaxy may be at stake, but the fact that its fate lies in the hands of a talking raccoon named Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), a tall talking tree named Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), a massively muscled angry guy named Drax (pro wrestler Dave Bautista), a green- skinned female assassin named Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Peter (Chris Pratt) means that it is a good thing this Marvel picture doesn't try to sell it straight.
In fact, it easily stands out from the rest of the more recognisable Marvel properties by simply being more playful than any of the rest. Peter is a sweet rogue played by Pratt with wily mischief. Drax is delightfully hypermuscled and hyperliteral - his rejoinder when being accused by Rocket that metaphors "fly over his head" is an absolute hoot. Gamora is kick-ass cool. Groot is lovably monosyllabic. And the one who often steals the show is the irascible foul-mouthed raccoon whom Groot provides the muscle for, Rocket, who is also streetwise, smart and suffers from an existential crisis. They aren't exactly first-choice to save the Earth-like planet Xandar from the warmongering baddie Ronan (Lee Pace), who wants the orb for his patron Thanos on the deal that the latter would help destroy Xandar - and both Xandar's Nova Corps officer (John C. Reilly) and head honcho Nova Prime (Glenn Close) pretty much make that clear.
But it is precisely their misfit nature that makes it all the more enjoyable. Whether escaping from Xandar's space prison known as the Kiln or from the cheekily-titled planet of Nowhere on which Benicio del Toro's The Collector resides, the ragtag gang always have a witty quip to spare, and the cast's delivery of Gunn's cleverly-scripted repartee is spot-on. There is also plenty of situational and physical humour in the numerous action scenes that follow our heroes along their space adventure - and fanboys will have a field day picking out Gunn's homage to classic sci-fi fare like 'Star Wars' in addition to thoroughly lapping up the pop-culture irony.
Gunn's casting here is flawless. None of the actors in the ensemble call attention to their own individual characters; instead, they play off each other with offbeat chemistry and perfect timing. In particular, Cooper is almost unrecognisable as the voice of Rocket, capturing perfectly his character's blend of brashness, intelligence and angst in a delivery brimming with panache. They easily overshadow the other villainous sorts who pop up every now and then to wreck destruction - including Ronan's lieutenant Korath (Djimon Hounsou) and Thanos' disillusioned daughter Nebula (Karen Gillan) - who unfortunately turn out just as nondescript as the villains in the Marvel movies so far.
That fault is not so much the actors as that of Gunn and his co-writer Nicole Perlman. If something had to give in order to make way for that self-aware smart-assery, it turned out to be both plot and character. Put aside the visual dazzle, and there's no doubt the narrative is about as straightforward as it gets. There is no treachery, no double- crossing, just plain good and bad defined right from the point that the characters make their entrance. Same goes for the characters, which aren't afforded much time for any backstory (save for that prologue we mentioned at the start) in between dodging bullets and blowing up stuff. As far as origin movies are concerned, this hardly makes the impression the way 'Captain America: The First Avenger' and 'Iron Man' did for their respective characters.
Those unfamiliar with Marvel lore will also find themselves grasping to understand how the entire universe comes together - for starters, you may wish to take note that the orb is so prized because it belongs in the same league as the Tesseract in 'The Avengers' movie. But if you find yourself lost amidst the mythology, you'll probably still find yourself lost in a giddy spirit of amusement. It's zany fun to say the least, with a perfectly pitched bunch of memorable characters, irreverent humour and some truly eye-popping CGI wizardry. Gunn relentlessly guns at everything that is fun and pleasing, no matter that they may seem absurd - and you know what, 'Guardians' is all the better for it
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